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Lakshman Kadirgamar - some facets

The tragic news of the assassination of Lakshman Kadirgamar reached me while I was on a visit to the USA after attending the 55th Pugwash Conference in Hiroshima, July 22 - 27, 2005, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Atomic bombing.

My immediate impulse was to put down my disturbed thoughts in the form of an obituary appreciation, if only to seek solace from the terrible shock and grief at the loss of such a national treasure, but held it for publication after I returned home and had seen other such appreciations like that of Judge C.G. Weeramantry, another distinguished Sri Lankan of similar calibre.

In Hiroshima, Dr. Weeramantry had characteristically brought the audience to its feet in a standing ovation with his classic Dorothy Hodgkin Memorial Lecture, together with distribution of copies of his book on the Illegality of Nuclear Weapons.

My own humble appreciation for Lakshman Kadirgamar cannot match eloquent tributes, like that of Dr.C.G. Weeramantry who analysed with judicial acumen the sagacity and courage of the late foreign Minister, who paid the ultimate price for his integrity in the dismal arena of politics. Mine was more personal but for that very reason I am able to fit it into the form of a response to what has been written by Tony Anghie.

He is a well respected former schoolmate who I have known for many years. This, my personal tribute may justify the implied criticism of elitism by the former writer, which Lakshman Kadirgamar himself mentioned in a speech he once gave at TCK. As I recall it, he said that if Trinitians are considered to be elitist, "So be it!"

This tribute may also sound somewhat elitist in parts, but it touches on a less well-known serious issue, reflecting Lakshman Kadirgamar's insight into foreign interference in our internal affairs. One such instance was at the international Pugwash Conference in Halifax in 2003, where incidentally Jayantha Dhanapala gave the Dorothy Hodgkin Memorial Oration, when the Secretary General of Pugwash charged that there are no Tamils in Sri Lanka Pugwash.

As embarrassing as this untrue and strange statement would have been to the President of Pugwash, Dr. Swaminathan who was at one time the Chairman of the International Irrigation Management Institute, IMMI, now IWMI, in Colombo, himself a Tamil from Chennai, it also indicates that ethnicity has infiltrated even the prestigious Pugwash Movement.

Lakshman Kadirgamar was the second Sri lankan President of the Oxford Union, after Lalith Athulathmudali, and both of them were assassinated in Colombo in recnet times. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who was Secretary of the Oxford Union was also assassinated in Colombo. All three represented an elite public school tradition which the British colonial rulers established, which S. Nihal Seneviratne has described.

SWRD was an old Thomian, Lalith was an alumnus of Royal College, Colombo, set up in 1835, Lakshman of Trinity College, Kandy, which was started in 1872. Both Lalith and Lakshman were outstanding scholars and track athletes. Laskhman an all-rounder also played cricket and rugby for his school, and at Oxford.

As it happens, I was a classmate of Lakshman Kadirgamar in the Primary School at Ladies College, Colombo, right up to the fifth standard, Grade 5 Today, from where he chose to enter Trinity for his secondary school education starting in 1943, all his elder brothers having distinguished themselves at Royal.

I was fortunate to enter Royal College, Bandarawela. At Trintiy, Lakshman blazed new trails, ending up as Senior Prefect in 1949, winning the Ryde Gold Medal for the best all-round boy and also a rare athletics Lion.

He was able to set up a record in the 120 yards hurdles at the Public Schools Athletics Championships beating Royalist Channa Gunasekera after getting off to a flyer. Channa had beaten him in the heats the previous day setting up a new record that was beaten by Lakshman within 24 hours.

To some of us Royalists at that time he seemed to be emulating the great Upali Amerasinghe, recognised to this day as the greatest all-round scholar - sportsman ever produced by Royal College, like unto the legendary Greek Gods. Only F.C. de Saram was thought to have achieved some comparable all-round greatness at Royal.

Tony Anghie who won the Dornhorst Memorial Prize in his time at Royal, equivalent to Trinity's Ryde Gold Medal, hero-worshipped F.C. and got himself involved in the 1962 coup. But, F.C. de Saram was brought to book by a more brilliant legal mind, another Royalist Felix Dias Bandaranaike (earlier plain Felix Dias).

Lakshman too chose a career in Law, graduating from the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, and proceeding to Oxford for higher studies. As an engineer in Sri Lanka I had no contact with Lakshman until his return after a stint in the UN System, when I was privileged to meet him occasionally. But, I did hear about his work in WIPO when I worked in the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs in the 1970s. One event that struck in my memory was his narrow escape from death when his TWA flight crash landed in Athens with the tragic loss of many lives.

I did meet him thereafter from time to time by chance rather than by design, yet each such meeting left an indelible mark in my memory. On one occasion, as chief guest at a Trinity College prize giving, in the company of his old classmate at TCK, Franklin Jacob, he greeted me with his charming smile and the intriguing remark that I was a 'hardy perennial'. Franklin may have thought that I was many year their senior!

Another memorable event was a conference at Temple Trees called by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumartunga on a water related discussion, when Anuruddha Rawatte was the Minister of Irrigation.

President Kumaratunga while introducing me to some of her officials, suddenly looked over my head to the back of the room, and called out "Lakhman, do you know my friend DLO?" Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar who had arrived for another meeting and was seated at the back of the room cheerily called back "I have known him for the past 50 years!", and Intervened "sixty, not fifty!" much to the surprise of all those present including the President!

On yet another occasion when he gave a memorial lecture at the BMICH for a former colleague at Peradeniya who had been a Deputy Solicitor General, he had time for a few words with me about my work on water related topics while autographing the script of his lecture for me.

Lakshman Kadirgamar, without getting involved in the debate himself, was aware of the long-standing disagreement among engineers and scientists about the alleged inefficiency of the ancient small village irrigation tanks, of which some thirty thousand are known to have been built. I am inclined to think that this awareness would have contributed to his support for the JVP as a partner in the coalition government, with its program for the restoration of one thousand small tanks, in the recent past.

Only the late S. Arumugam, an old Thomian, in his day and age understood that the small tanks are an integral part of a total system of small, medium and large reservoirs and diversion systems, water and soil conservation ecosystems, in today's terminology.

It is no secret that influential decision-makers at that time (and some, other today too) believed that the mega projects like Gal Oya, Walawe and Mahaweli where hundreds of ancient small tanks were wiped out, was the only way to development.

Arumugam's memory was honoured by the Institution of Engineers with a Centenary Oration by Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne on Science and Civilisation in Sri Lanka on August 31, 2005, his hundredth birthday anniversary. he died at the ripe age of 95 years in London in March 2000.

Arumugam's daughter from Australia and his son from Canada were present at this unique event. Perhaps optimistically, I was looking forward to meeting Lakshman Kadirgamar again after this occasion, because he was aware of my work at the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge University, with Joseph Needham, whose great work Science and Civilisation in China, we are trying to emulate in a small way. Alas, such critical comment and support for our project will now not be available.

When the tsunami hit us on December 26, 2004, my immediate reaction was to suggest to the international Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs that the long talked of international Pugwash conference in Sri Lanka should be held here at the end of 2005, to commemorate the first anniversary of this event.

At the Hiroshima conference, I also gave out copies of the Christian Worker, special issue on the tsunami and the Peace Process which carries my article titled Pugwash, Water, and Conflict in Sri Lanka, to a few Pugwashites, who are Fellows of the Royal Society, since the origin of the Royal Society is discussed in this article.

I have also mentioned the reorganization of the Sri Lanka Pugwash Group after the Halifax conference in 2003, with Professor C. B. Dissanayake another Oxford alumnus, with a D.Sc in geology, representing the hard sciences as Chairman, and Jayantha Dhanapala representing the soft sciences, as Co-Chairman, Coincidentally, both these eminent scientists are old Trinitians, like Lakshman Kadirgamar!

Another old Trinitian I knew, who too was killed by assassins, was Gamini Dissanayake, the charismatic Minister of Irrigation and Mahaweli Development in the government of old Royalist Junius Richard Jayewardene.

He was aware of my views on the ancient irrigation systems, and I had the opportunity to start a discussion with him on this, on one memorable occasion at the house of my late father-in-law, a long time supporter of his party, in Giriulla. That was the time when Mahaweli designers considered the ancient small tanks to be inefficient and had to be wiped out, (like terrorism).

My position has always been, following Arumugam, that small tanks in Sri Lanka are an essential part of a total human-made water and soil conservation eco-system. But, the discussion at Giriulla that day was somehow diverted into a friendly argument about the merits of out two old schools, (maybe elitism again), with Gamini Dissanayake saying that I had done better than him by sending my sons to Trinity, while I begged to disagree, saying that he had done better by sending his sons to Royal! Serious debate on small tanks was forgotten, thereafter!

In conclusion, I think that Lakshman Kadirgamar's assassination was precipitated by the fact that he was poised to play a vital role in the resuscitation and rehabilitation of our country whose economy and polity is being debilitated by so-called foreign aid and various forms of foreign intervention.

It is tragic to see this infiltration by foreign vested interests, and their unwarranted interference in our internal affairs, even in the prestigious international Pugwash conferences on Science and World Affairs, as I have mentioned. There is an interesting insight into this interference in a very recent publication titled Confessions of an Economic-Hit men by John Perkins. An extract from the Preface reads:

"Economic-hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign "aid" organisations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet's natural resources.

Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalisation. I should know; I was an EHM".

My friend in USA Jega Arulpragasam another classmate from kindergarten to University, who sent me the reference adds: The trick, as I understand it, is for these "economists" at "private" consulting firms to make impossibly rose estimates of GDP growth in the target countries as a result of some HUGE development projects.

These economists then sell them to aid agencies like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, USAID et al. And get them to give loans to these countries, loans that are INTENDED to be defaulted on in a few years when the GDP growth doesn't materialize. Then the only way these countries can service their debt is by selling their natural resources, AND devote an inordinate share of the national budget to paying off debt rather than to help its dangerously impoverished citizens have better human services such as healthcare and education.

Lunuganvehera is an outstanding example of this type of borrowing. A 1992 IIMI study reported that the initial loan from the ADB in 1977 was $ 24 million and the total cost was US$ 30.5 but this was increased in 1982 to US$ 106 million, and "because the financing gap was considered too large to be met from available sources, and because of implementation delays, the Government agreed with the Bank and the co-financiers to implement the project in two phases".

As is well-known this redesign of the project to increase the cost of this project nearly four fold was only on paper and could never have been implemented in practice. It remains unscrutinized to this day, while the bureaucrat mainly responsible for this atrocious transaction found himself employment in the World Bank after retirement from the Administrative service in Sri Lanka.

An example of the sale of natural resources to settle this type of bad national debt, is the Eppawala phosphate project. When first mooted, the people of Eppawala led by the courageous Eppawala Hamuduruwo, supported by concerned citizens in Colombo, took a Fundamental Rights case to the Supreme Court.

The Eppawala judgement is considered a landmark in Environmental law in this country, but it has been summarily dismissed by proponents of the proposal to sell out Eppawala to foreign multi-national corporations, as "unworkable".

The recent news of Chinese aid for exploiting Eppawala phosphate may be a strategy for circumventing criticism of the multinational corporations, indicating the cunning of the vested interests in the case. I grieve for Lakshman Kadirgamar's death because I think he could have helped us to negate these vested interests. May he Rest in Peace.

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